Reflections: A Man and His Time, one of the most fascinating dramas ever to take the stage in New Orleans, is commanding the rapt attention of full houses at Anthony Bean Community Theater. Bean wrote and directed the play, drawing on the memoirs of the central character, former City Council president Oliver Thomas, who went to prison after pleading guilty to accepting a bribe. Thomas plays himself on stage, and he pulls it off with stunning poise and restraint.
Thomas has performed in other works at the theater, but Reflections takes him into a different, personal realm. It opens with a scene between Thomas and his wife, Angelle (played by the versatile Gwendolyn Foxworth, pictured). Thomas is upset and nervous, and he and Angelle are having a spat. She's irritated by his dedication to his job. He stayed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina to rescue people from rooftops after sending Angelle and their daughter to safety. Gradually, Angelle realizes something ominous is afoot.
"I'm in trouble," he tells her. "I might be going to prison."
The play then delves into a heated debate between clergymen from a wide spectrum of denominations. Is Thomas the target of a white conspiracy intent on taking back power in the city? Thomas only did what white politicians have done for ages, some say. Or, as others contend, did Thomas commit a crime and therefore deserve punishment? Standouts Harold X. Evans and Alfred Aubry, well supported by Steven Burke, Gavin Bell and Damany S. Cormier, make the ecclesiastic wrangling enjoyable.
To everyone's shock and amazement, Thomas — a 13-year councilman and a popular politician — decides to plead guilty.
Act two finds Thomas in prison, sitting with other inmates behind a barbed-wire fence. He's stoically enduring a torrent of verbal jabs from various inmates, mostly young drug dealers who face longer sentences than his. A young inmate named Donte (Darryl Lutcher) approaches Thomas, and they have a series of talks that seem both father/son and therapist/patient. Donte is facing 22 years in jail, but you get the feeling Thomas is groping toward his own personal redemption.
When Thomas is transferred to a prison near New Orleans, he meets another imprisoned politician, "The Gov" (Charles Bosworth), who is white and got away with more illicit wheeling and dealing for a longer time than Thomas. But The Gov is behind bars as well, suggesting a modicum of justice, however lopsided.
On opening night, Thomas got a heartfelt and deserved standing ovation at curtain call. Reflections is a theatrical event not to be missed. — Dalt Wonk